The prognosis following a spinal cord injury will depend on a number of different factors. For example, the location where the damage occurs on the spine will significantly determine which parts of the body are affected and to what extent.
The severity of the damage is also a hugely significant factor that needs to be taken into consideration.
The spinal cord is divided into different sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (lower back) and sacral (base of the spine).
Generally speaking, injuries sustained higher up on the spine will be more severe and negatively affect more areas of the body.
For example, a complete injury to the neck can result in full paralysis. Damage to the lumbar region may only affect the legs and lower organs.
Here we take a closer look at the impact of an injury to the thoracic vertebrae and what this may mean for the individual.
The thoracic vertebrae are located between the neck and the lower back, generally covering the area of the chest. There are 12 vertebrae in all and each segment has nerves travelling to central parts of the body.
Their individual functions include:
Transmits messages to and from the forearm and the wrist. It also influences areas such as the oesophagus and heart.
Transmits messages to the back of the upper arm but also has an effect on the heart, including the opening and closing of valves.
Sends nerve signals to and from the lungs, bronchial tubes, and chest.
Sends signals to control heartbeat, lungs, muscular contraction, the gallbladder and breathing.
Controls areas such as circulation, the stomach and is involved in liver function.
Controls the liver, peritoneum and duodenum.
Sends signals to areas like the kidneys, spleen, large intestine and testes.
Controls areas such as the liver, adrenal cortex, gallbladder and stomach.
Transmits messages to and from the stomach, spleen and pancreas and is involved in controlling functions relating to the ovaries and uterus in women.
Shares many of the purposes as the T9 vertebrae including sending signals to the pancreas and large intestine.
Controls the urinary bladder, Ileocecal valve and adrenal medulla and cortex.
Controls lymph circulation, small and large intestine and urinary bladder.
Thoracic spinal cord injuries are rarer because the area is protected by the rib cage so it’s a lot more difficult to damage compared to the neck area. Because of this, incomplete injuries are more common which means that the prognosis in terms of recovery is usually better.
The most common causes of thoracic spinal cord injury include:
Where the injury occurs is going to be a defining factor for all those with a thoracic spinal cord injury.
Patients that have an injury between T1 and T8 will experience a range of symptoms:
Patients that have an injury between T9 and T12 will typically:
They may also be able to stand using a specialist frame or support device.
As with any spinal injury, immediate medical intervention is vital to ensure the best outcome. Patients with complete injuries are likely to be paraplegic but will retain control of upper body function, including the arms.
Treatment for a thoracic spinal cord injury could include surgery to take out a bone fragment or ease a compression. Traction may also be used in more moderate cases.
Rehabilitation and recovery will often involve learning to use an assistive device such as a wheelchair. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy are normally combined to help improve physical ability and provide support. Some patients with T1 damage may also have problems with speech that can be improved with the help of a speech therapist.
A thoracic spinal cord injury can be severe but rarely causes a fatality. Long term prognosis and recovery with the right support is good but early intervention is vital when treating either a complete or incomplete injury.
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Heterotopic Ossification and Spinal Cord Injuries
Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries Explained
Partial Paralysis vs Full Paralysis After a Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal Cord Injury FAQs
Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries Explained
Degenerative Disc Disease Explained
Sacral Spine Injuries